Confection has been in short supply on the boards of late, so it comes as a welcome surprise that the 1963 tuner “She Loves Me,” now back at the Paper Mill, is heartier than ever. As staged by James Brennan, this handsome, sugary revival is a tasty offering, bolstered by an immensely embraceable cast and a familiar love story that remains enchanting.
Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 Hungarian play “Parfumerie” has been through many incarnations, among them 1940 film “The Shop Around the Corner,” with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart;, 1949 MGM musical “In the Good Old Summertime,” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson; and the more recent “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The real beauty of the show’s structure is the degree to which each character is defined by his or her own musical turn. The songs grow out of the characters and spin the plot along. Jerry Bock’s lilting melodies and Sheldon Harnick’s precisely defining lyrics tell a love story with flashes of jubilant declaration and ardent commitment. Even the overture, with its Gypsy violinist rising from the depths of the pit, sets an infectious mood.
The employees of the swank European cosmetic shop are each brought to life with clarity and flair. Michele Ragusa is the shy, smitten Amalia Balash, unaware that the store manager is in reality the other party in their mutually amorous, secret correspondence. Ragusa sings the lushly giddy reflections “Will He Like Me,” “Dear Friend” and “Vanilla Ice Cream” with sweeping, romantic abandon. George Dvorsky acts her hesitant romantic vis-a-vis with a restrained charm, tossed to the winds in his buoyant delivery of the title tune.
David Hess’ Kodaly is a charming, womanizing heel. Avoiding the usual smarminess, his take on “Grand Knowing You” is marked by dapper vaudevillian flair. The saucy humor of jilted sales girl Ilona appears to have been tempered here, but Nancy Anderson makes “A Trip to the Library” a blithely bookish turn.
Appearing as warm and crusty shopkeeper Maraczek, vet thesp George S. Irving — who turns 82this week — brings old world charm with the waltzing remembrance of “Days Gone Bye.”
Even the headwaiter has a moment or two of suave distinction. Paul Schoeffler (Paper Mill’s Henry Higgins) plays him with an air of smug superiority dotted with compassion for the winsome shop girl. Bradford William Anderson as the eager delivery boy grabs his moment with the exuberant request for promotion, “Try Me.”
Brennan’s sharp, unerring staging is punctuated by some keenly comic choreography. Michael Anania’s sets, re-created from the original design by Chuck Keating, boast the charm of a European postcard.